Stars of the Persian Room

Buddy Guy returns to the Playboy Jazz Festival (2011)

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

Grammy-winning guitar legend and Festival favorite Buddy Guy returned to the Playboy Stage in 2011, for yet another rousing performance. A member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame known for his raucous Chicago style blues, Guy rocked the house with his electrifying guitar prowess, solidifying his status as a legend in his own time. But the highlight of the set came when Guy introduced his protégé, 12 year-old guitar phenomenon, Quinn Sullivan. Trading licks with Guy, young Sullivan wowed the crowd with his astounding playing winning a standing ovation.

You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents

 


 

Back by popular demand, Patty Farmer and Lainie Kazan.

Big Barda Miracle 4-16 by Lainie Kazan

Big Barda Miracle 4-16 by Lainie Kazan

Lainie Kazan may be the only woman who launched a business career by posing in the all-together for Playboy magazine!  By 1970, she was a headliner who had already had a vast experience in a wide range of entertainment media – from three shows on Broadway (The Happiest Girl in the World, Bravo Giovanni, and Funny Girl), starred in nightclubs (like the Persian Room), had recorded five long-playing albums of her own, and starred on top-rated TV variety series like The Ed Sullivan Show and the Dean Martin Show;  in fact, in her December 1968 Sunday night appearance (in which she sang her famous Judy Garland medley of “The Trolley Song” and “Gotta Have Me Go with You”), Ed Sullivan took a particular delight in telling his vast audience that her father was Russian and her mother was Turkish (both parents were Jewish).  Lainie herself was not only exotic, but as many observers have pointed out, whether on TV, in a club, an album, or even in a photo, she always seemed a little bit dangerous.

Lainie Smiles

Lainie Smiles

Lainie launched a long relationship with Playboy enterprises when she posed nude in the October 1970 issue of the magazine; the result of a photo session that transpired in the illustrious Plaza Hotel—Lainie performed at the hotel’s legendary Persian Room as well as living at the hotel.  (In the tradition of the time, there was no full-frontal nudity yet, but she wasn’t hiding much.) That one particular modeling job would launch a vast cause-and-effect. It cemented her ongoing, very productive collaboration with the Playboy brand – as she told us, within five years, she would be the only artist – impresario  to open her own room-within-a-room in the Playboy Club circuit – that happened when “Lainie’s Room” opened in the Los Angeles Playboy in 1975 and then again in the New York club a few seasons later.

lainie kazan body & soul

Another collateral benefit was for comic book readers and fans of the superhero auteur Jack Kirby; not long before, the widely-praised artist and writer had switched allegiances from his long-standing job at Marvel comics (where he had played a key role in the creation of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Mighty Thor, and dozens of other iconic creations) to the company’s arch-competitor, DC comics. His most dramatic creation was a whole universe of new characters, which he called “The Fourth World,” at the centerpiece of which was a “super group” he called the New Gods. The first of these New Gods to star in his own title was “Mister Miracle” (aka “Scott Free”) and in issue four of that series, Mister Miracle’s love interest was introduced; rather than a demure gal Friday like Superman’s Lois Lane, the new girl god on the block was “Big Barda,” a highly imposing six feet of both pure muscle and sheer sex appeal.  She went around pummeling bad guys in Asgard-ian like body armor, but Kirby went out of his way, in her first two appearances (Mister Miracle #4 October 1971 and #5 November-December 1971) to show her in a bikini-like get up as well.  It was no surprise to anyone when Kirby eventually admitted that he was a Playboy reader and the physical image of Big Barda was directly based on Lainie’s image from the October 1970 issue.

Liza Minnelli with Husband and Lainie Kazan

Liza Minnelli with her husband and Lainie Kazan

Thus the image of herself in the buff would have vast consequences and many rewards for Lainie. But, ironically, those rewards were not monetary – at least not immediately so.  Lainie told us that it simply never occurred to her to ask for any kind of payment for her services in posing.  To be honest, that doesn’t sound like the Lainie we know, but then of course, we didn’t know her back then.  From the looks of those images – both in Playboy and Mister Miracle – we wish that we had!

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You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents

 


 

Julie Wilson at the Copa Part 2

Julie Wilson at the Copa Part 2:

Julie & Frank

 

Phil Silvers Julie Wilson Bilko 1958 at the Copa

Phil Silvers Julie Wilson Bilko 1958

 

Julie continued to work at the Copa for roughly two years.  It was during that time that she made connections with several show business icons who would become longtime friends and supporters, including both Frank Sinatra and Phil Silvers.  The big song that Julie was doing, as part of the ensemble, in the Spring and Summer of 1946, was a South American-styled novelty titled “The Coffee Song.”

“And there was a boy singer, with me too,.  We introduced ‘They’ve Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil.’ That was our big song. And Sinatra came in and he loved that song, and he recorded it and made a million.” (Sinatra famously recorded it twice, in 1946 as a 78 RPM single for Columbia Records,  and again in 1961 for his album Ring-a-Ding-Ding.)

“The Coffee Song” would be the most famous number to emerge from Julie’s tenure at the Copa, but the single most memorable incident is, in fact, one of the most famous nights in the history of American nightclubs.  In September, 1946, the big opening of the Fall was set to be the team of Phil Silvers and “Rags” Ragland (real name: John Lee Morgan Beauregard Ragland).  As is well known, Silvers, who went on to a long career on Broadway and television, was a fast talking, highly-verbal comic; Ragland’s style was contrastingly slower and more physical.  They fell into the familiar vaudeville pattern of a sharpie and a stooge.

A lot was riding on the team’s September 1946 opening at the Copa, but to everyone’s horror, Ragland died unexpectedly of uremia only about two weeks prior.  Silvers had decided to go on as a solo act, but was nervous and frightened without his partner.  He asked his longtime friend Frank Sinatra to help, but Sinatra was contractually obligated to stay in Hollywood, where he was filming his latest MGM movie, titled It Happened in Brooklyn (despite the title, it was actually being shot in Culver City, California). At the last minute, Sinatra, who was already perpetually in trouble with MGM for acting like he had a mind of his ow—in those days, the movie studios essentially owned all the actors they had under contract, who never questioned the orders they were given— decided to play hooky from Hollywood.  He unexpectedly hopped a plane to New York, and presented himself to Phil Silvers the afternoon of the opening  as the funnyman’s new stooge.

MGM was horrified at first, but Sinatra’s surprise pitching in to help two pals, one living and one departed, was a bonanza of positive publicity – the whole country was buzzing about Silvers and Sinatra at the Copa.  Most of these details are recounted in several biographies of Sinatra, including James Kaplan’s wonderful The Voice.  But, surprisingly, all the written works that we’ve consulted somehow neglected to mention that Julie Wilson was right in the middle of the entire incident.

She remembers it well: “And then, it came the opening night for Phil Silvers, and Rags Ragland died, and Sinatra flew in and didn’t tell anybody–showed up to be his sidekick. Isn’t that nice?   I was there. And Frank said, “C’mon Julie, we’re going to do a song together, the three of us.” So there we were –Phil Silvers, Frank and me as the girl singer.  I still remember the song,…” At this point in our interview, Julie started singing to us: “‘I’ve flown around the world…I can’t get started, with you.’ I was so thrilled I could hardly talk.”

This was hardly the end of Julie’s association with either Silvers or Sinatra: in 1958, she had a highly memorable guest appearance on the Phil Silvers Show, aka You’ll Never Get Rich, aka Sergeant Bilko.  (This will be the subject of a subsequent blog, yes.) Her other, most memorable encounter with Sinatra happened around 1950.  “It was in London I had been in a little eating place, and they had a kid who played piano and wrote songs, Carroll Coates.”  That’s where she heard the songwriter doing what would be his most famous number, “London By Night,” and she started singing it at her own shows.  “I was working in a fancy saloon and Sinatra brought Ava Gardner in to see my show, and they were very nice, and he said, ‘I’d like to get a copy of “London By Night.'”  Of course, Carroll was glad to give it to him!  Sinatra wound up recording that song on three different occasions in 1950, 1957, and 1962 – one of the few songs to earn that honor, and to this day it’s Carroll’s best-known work.

Julie stresses that the whole Copa incident was typical of Sinatra.  “He was kind. Sinatra was a very kind guy. You know, he’d show up when people were in need. He was a very nice guy. So I felt very lucky—yeah, I got to do that one song with him.”

 

You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents

 


 

Lonnie Shorr

Lonnie Shorr

Lonnie Shorr

 

The southern comedian, Lonnie Shorr—whose delivery has often been compared in the tradition of Will Rodgers—worked the Playboy circuit for two straight years. He told us, “I’m glad I did! It was a great learning experience and an opportunity to perfect your act —although you never really reach perfection.

 

“I found my niche working for Playboy because you did so many shows for them. It was a ‘floating‘ schedule because usually you did two shows a night. But if the last show had an attendance of fifteen percent of the room capacity, you had to do another show! In other words, if the room sat a hundred people and you had fifteen people in the audience—you did another show. So theoretically, you could be doing a lot of shows!

 

Lonnie Short and Juliet Prowse

Lonnie Short and Juliet Prowse

 

“One thing about Playboy that was different from the way things are today is that you couldn’t use four letter words. Nobody did that. If you did, you had an unfavorable report written about you. This report was sent to the company headquarters in Chicago, and if you received too many bad write-ups you were dropped from the circuit, and no one wanted that. There were guys that were a little suggestive, but no cursing.

 

“The Playboy Clubs were one of the few places we worked that had standards, very high standards for everyone—the staff, the Bunnies, and the entertainers. The other day, I had a guy from one of our local newspapers ask me about the entertainment scene today, and I told him I thought that the  Playboy principle of entertainment was what they needed today in some of these other clubs.

 

The Playboy Clubs always had two acts—once in awhile they’d have three acts in the bigger clubs. It was a place where you could go and see a show and, at that time the prices were really nominal –then you could go downstairs and listen to some music while actually talking to the person you were with. That’s the kind of place we could use nowadays.”

 

Lonnie Shorr

Lonnie Shorr

 

You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents

 


 

Lainie Kazan

lainie kazan body & soul

Lainie Kazan – Body & Soul

Lainie Kazan may be the only woman who launched a business career by posing in the all-together for Playboy magazine!  By 1970, she was a headliner who had already had a vast experience in a wide range of entertainment media – from three shows on Broadway (The Happiest Girl in the World, Bravo Giovanni, and Funny Girl), starred in nightclubs (like the Persian Room), had recorded five long-playing albums of her own, and starred on top-rated TV variety series like The Ed Sullivan Show and the Dean Martin Show;  in fact, in her December 1968 Sunday night appearance (in which she sang her famous Judy Garland medley of “The Trolley Song” and “Gotta Have Me Go with You”), Ed Sullivan took a particular delight in telling his vast audience that her father was Russian and her mother was Turkish (both parents were Jewish).  Lainie herself was not only exotic, but as many observers have pointed out, whether on TV, in a club, an album, or even in a photo, she always seemed a little bit dangerous.

Lainie Smiles

Lainie Smiles

Lainie launched a long relationship with Playboy enterprises when she posed nude in the October 1970 issue of the magazine; the result of a photo session that transpired in the illustrious Plaza Hotel—Lainie performed at the hotel’s legendary Persian Room as well as living at the hotel.  (In the tradition of the time, there was no full-frontal nudity yet, but she wasn’t hiding much.) That one particular modeling job would launch a vast cause-and-effect. It cemented her ongoing, very productive collaboration with the Playboy brand – as she told us, within five years, she would be the only artist – impresario  to open her own room-within-a-room in the Playboy Club circuit – that happened when “Lainie’s Room” opened in the Los Angeles Playboy in 1975 and then again in the New York club a few seasons later.

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Lainie Kazan – Lainie Kazan

Another collateral benefit was for comic book readers and fans of the superhero auteur Jack Kirby; not long before, the widely-praised artist and writer had switched allegiances from his long-standing job at Marvel comics (where he had played a key role in the creation of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Mighty Thor, and dozens of other iconic creations) to the company’s arch-competitor, DC comics. His most dramatic creation was a whole universe of new characters, which he called “The Fourth World,” at the centerpiece of which was a “super group” he called the New Gods. The first of these New Gods to star in his own title was “Mister Miracle” (aka “Scott Free”) and in issue four of that series, Mister Miracle’s love interest was introduced; rather than a demure gal Friday like Superman’s Lois Lane, the new girl god on the block was “Big Barda,” a highly imposing six feet of both pure muscle and sheer sex appeal.  She went around pummeling bad guys in Asgard-ian like body armor, but Kirby went out of his way, in her first two appearances (Mister Miracle #4 October 1971 and #5 November-December 1971) to show her in a bikini-like get up as well.  It was no surprise to anyone when Kirby eventually admitted that he was a Playboy reader and the physical image of Big Barda was directly based on Lainie’s image from the October 1970 issue.

Liza Minnelli with Husband and Lainie Kazan

Liza Minnelli with her husband and Lainie Kazan

Thus the image of herself in the buff would have vast consequences and many rewards for Lainie. But, ironically, those rewards were not monetary – at least not immediately so.  Lainie told us that it simply never occurred to her to ask for any kind of payment for her services in posing.  To be honest, that doesn’t sound like the Lainie we know, but then of course, we didn’t know her back then.  From the looks of those images – both in Playboy and Mister Miracle – we wish that we had!

Big Barda Miracle 4-16 by Lainie Kazan

Big Barda Miracle 4-16 by Lainie Kazan

 

You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents

 


 

Duke Hazlett

Duke Hazlett as Bing Crosby

Duke Hazlett as Bing Crosby

Duke began his career as a Sinatra tribute artist at the Le Bistro in Atlantic City. He told me that when he sang there, the club would put a sign outside saying “If you like Sinatra, you’ll love Duke.” Sinatra also played in Atlantic City, but when he did, it was next door at the 500 Club and he’d often quip to his audiences, “If you like Duke, you’ll go cuckoo over me.” Duke continued, “Frank, on occasions when we’d meet was always nice to me and would kid me by saying, ‘Just remember, I’m still the Chairman of the Board—but you can be the Vice-Chairman.’”

Dukes voice wasn’t the only similarity to the famous Rat-packer; he was also synonymous in appearance. And he was so convincing and his performance such pure fun that he was invited as a guest on the most popular variety shows, including The Steve Allen Show and Jack Parr Show. He was also induced to take part in an entertaining subterfuge. As Duke tells it: “I was working at a club in Chicago and Hef [Hugh Hefner] would come to see me because he was a Sinatra fan. Well, this one night he told me that he had been looking forward to having Sinatra perform at his upcoming Jazz Festival, but Frank’s plan changed and he couldn’t make it. However, he had an alternative that he needed help with. He wanted me to appear and do a few of the songs I usually did in my show. I told him I’d be overjoyed to do it just because it sounded like so much fun!

“The night came—August, 1959. The search lights were crossing in the sky as I walked down the aisle with a brigade of twelve police officers escorting me to the stage. I had a trench coat flung over my shoulder and a straw hat with a white band cocked on my head. As soon as I hit the stage, Count Basie’s Band started up and I swung into “Come Fly With Me”—and the crowd went wild, just wild! I received a standinDuke Hazlett

g ovation and Mort Sahl—the MC—introduced me afterwards by my real name, saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Duke Hazlett.’ But people hear what they want, and the next day one of the Chicago newspapers reported that Frank Sinatra had appeared at the Playboy Jazz Festival and did a fantastic job! I’ve appeared since at many prestigious clubs and engagements and been on some wonderful shows, but that’s the one time I relive over and over.”

After waiting this famous clip from the Steve Allen Show let me know if you would have been fooled into thinking you just saw Frank Sinatra at the first Playboy Jazz Festival in 1959.

 

You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents

 


 

Andy Williams

Andy Williams

Andy Williams

President Reagan proclaimed Andy William’s voice a national treasure. I’m not about to challenge that assertion, but Andy wasn’t always the suave crooner that most of us love and adore.

 

At the tender age of eight, while in the third grade, Andy joined his three brothers singing in the church choir. They were an instant local hit and started to perform regularly on the radio in nearby Des Moines, Iowa, as the Williams Brothers Quartet. Bob, Don, Dick, and Andy were on a roll, and by 1944, they found themselves backing up Bing Crosby on his hit record “Swinging on a Star.”

 

Soon, the Williams Brothers hit the road, touring the country with Kay Thompson, and it was with her, in 1951 and again in September 1952, that they performed at the Persian Room. Reviewers called the act “trendsetting.”

 

Speaking with Andy, the first thing I wanted to know was, what was so unusual about that “trendsetting” act.

 

“Well, first of all, we moved around! That probably doesn’t sound so groundbreaking, but believe me, it was. Prior to us, nightclub entertainers had traditionally stood in one spot and performed. If there was more than one singer, you all clustered around the microphone the best

you could.”

 

“We actually had a choreographer—Bob Alton. So that we could move around more easily, we hung the mikes from the ceiling, and I mean we hung the mikes. We actually got up on ladders ourselves and put them where we wanted them, and then we were able to move all over the stage, making our act sort of like a mini musical revue.

 

“Kay was an enormously dynamic performer. The act she put together was very fast and sophisticated, with high energy and lots of dance movements and singing. Two of our signature numbers were ‘It’s a Jubilee Time’ and ‘Pauvre Suzette.’ In ‘Suzette,’ Kay sang, and my brothers and I were at the four corners, harmonizing and dancing around her.

 

“We all stayed at the Plaza for the duration of the run, and it was there in the lobby that I was introduced to Stanley Marcus—you know, the cofounder of the Neiman Marcus department stores? He suggested that I take advantage of all the art and culture New York City had to offer,

that I should walk and explore and learn from its many galleries and museums. I took his advice—mainly because the next time I saw him I didn’t want to have to tell him, that I hadn’t. As I result I forged a deep appreciation and love for modern art.”

 

That experience clearly set something in motion: Prior to his death Andy Williams was considered a major art collector.

Andy Williams

Andy Williams


You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents

 


Polly Bergen

Polly Bergen

Polly Bergen

Polly told me that she felt the Plaza Hotel was a selective venue, and The Persian Room—in that hotel—the most beautiful room in the world to work in. When I asked which talent she enjoyed the most, she replied singing, even though she became a household name through her numerous and varied stage appearances. Polly won an Emmy Award for her portrayal of singer Helen Morgan in The Helen Morgan Story.  She also costarred with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum in the very dramatic Cape Fear and again with Mitchum –almost twenty years later—in The Winds of War and “War and Remembrance” (garnering Emmy nominations in the process). Then Polly’s career took a comic turn in Kisses for My President, where she portrayed the first female president, and Move Over Darling with Doris Day and James Garner.

Polly attained star status when barely out of her teens when, just after studying math in community college, she caught the interest of legendary producer Hal Wallis. Mr. Wallis is best known for producing and winning an Academy Award Casablanca, but that is just one in a very extensive line of significant movies he produced. “I was playing a small club,” said Polly, “and I didn’t have an agent or manager or anybody at that point. Well, Clarence Freed came in, heard me sing, and said he’d like to handle my career. I said, ‘Great. Fine.’ And he sent a picture of me, along with a recording of me singing a wild hillbilly song—“Honky Tonking”—to all the well-known producers in Hollywood. The photo he sent was a very glamorous shot of me in a low-cut dress with my hair swept to one side to revel long rhinestone earrings. It was quite a combination—this very sophisticated looking girl and this honky-tonk song.

“One of the producers Clarence sent it to was Hal Wallis, and he was kind of mesmerized and asked me to come in. I met him, and he signed me that same day. He put me in my first three movies with Martin and Lewis.” Those films were At War with the Army, That’s My Boy, and The Stooge.

“I adored Dean Martin more than life itself, and I always played his wife or girlfriend.  But I had a very hard time with Jerry. He wanted to screw everybody he worked with, and that was just the way it was. Jerry made my life a living hell, because I wouldn’t play ball with him. Every day on the set was so horrendous that I finally walked away. He would not take ‘no’ for an answer!”

Sadly, we lost Polly on September 20, 2014,  but she lives on in her friends and her work.

Polly Bergen

Polly Bergen

 

You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents

 


 

Jack Jones

Jack Jones

Jack Jones

I’ve been longing for an opportunity to talk to Jack Jones – one of the most popular vocalists of his time—for over a year, but his busy schedule didn’t ease up until recently. It was worth the wait.

Jack, born John Allen Jones, is the only son of actress Irene Harvey and singer/actor Allen Jones – best remembered for acting the straight man in the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races , as well as his chart topping hit song The Donkey Serenade.

After signing a recording deal with Capitol Records while still a teenager Allen invited his son to join him on stage for his engagement at The Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas. This was Jack’s first professional gig. They sang duets, including “Donkey Serenade” and then Jack sang a solo – his first in front of such a sizable paying audience— and he liked it.

Capitol Records and Jack soon differed on the direction his music should go and they parted. He found that the progressive record label Kapp was a much more compatible match. The first song they recorded together, “Lollipops and Roses” snared Jack a Grammy for Best Pop Male Vocal Performance. This was swiftly followed by “Wives and Lovers” earning him another Grammy and a spot at the table with the big boys, an engagement at The Persian Room!

Jack entertained sold–out audiences many times at The Plaza, starting with his first in December of 1964 and until October 1975. “That was my debut” says Jack. “I was scared to death and excited at the same time, I had hit the big time and had hardly paid any dues at all.”

“John Doringer was my PR guy. He was the top PR guy in New York, and he handled the opening—did a marvelous job. Everyone was there. Lesley Caron was going with Warren Beatty – they were both there – and of all the people in the room: I forgot to introduce them. Warren was a friend and he kiddingly gave me trouble over that for a while.”

“Ethel Merman was there—and yes, I remembered to introduce her. She was a good friend of mine throughout the rest of her life. So many people were there it was a real star-studded audience. That entire time surrounding my first successful opening at The Persian Room was so exciting. Just prior to that I was playing a tiny club called The Living Room, so it really happened quite quickly.

“Funny story about that initial success: Peter Leverson worked for John Springer, my PR guy. One day we were sitting around my suite talking on the phone, doing PR stuff, and Peter called the hotel operator for something – I don’t remember what – but I hear him say, ‘Operator …enough, enough…I’m talking to you from Jack Jones’ suite and I want you to XYZ….’ When he hung up I said to him, ‘Peter, it appears to me that my new-found fame has gone to YOUR head!’ And we both had a good laugh.”

“I remember another time there,” Jack continued. “I got a call in my suite, from the matri de, John, who was a real character—very European, and he knew what to do and how to handle everything. One of his tasks was to keep tabs on who was coming to the show. So this particular night he calls and very excitedly says, Mrs. Kennedy is coming in! ‘It’s wonderful’ he says, and I agreed, it was great. So they pull out the best china The Plaza has to offer. There are amazing flower arrangements. Her table is especially beautiful and the staff is polished right down to their last button.”

“Then John starts calling me saying, ‘Jack, you have to hold the show, she hasn’t shown up yet.’ ‘Okay I say, but let’s hope it’s not for too long; I don’t want the other people getting mad at me.’ ‘No, no, no, it will be fine,’ he assures me.’ He calls me two or three more times with updates – basically to say she’s not here yet! Okay, but I can’t hold the show much longer, so I leave my room and go downstairs to just wait and keep a lookout from behind the kitchen’s swinging door.

“Finally, he comes and tells me she’s cancelled. ‘How can she do this to me?’ he moans, ‘Oh me, oh my’ and so on and so on. “I say, ‘You? How can she do this to you?’ Even though I never had a chance to meet her, she was reportedly a big fan. The show was delayed about 45 minutes by this time, but I went out and made some kind of excuse and began the show. It was fine. These things happen – you hope they don’t, but they do and you just roll with them.”

“My ex – wife, Jill St. John, might have been there at some point when I played that room…wait a minute …she was! I remember this because we used to go around the corner to the jewelry store Van Cleef and Arpel!” Just like a man to have his memory jogged by that! “We also enjoyed the Palm Court.”

During the 60’s and 70’s, Jack was a staple on all of the popular TV variety shows, as well a guest star on the most widely watched TV shows of the day. One of his most recognizable songs is the catchy theme song for Love Boat.

 

You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents

 


 

 

LAMBERT, HENDRICKS AND ROSS

Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross

Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross

Formed in 1957, the vocal trio of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross brought something entirely new to jazz: a heightened hipness and swing based on taking big band instrumentals and adding words to them.  Until Ms. Ross left the ensemble, roughly five years, in 1962, they were as the title of their first Columbia album proclaimed The Hottest New Group in Jazz.

 

Dave Lambert died in 1966 at age 49 –the result of a highway accident in which he was trying to help someone—but his two partners, Jon and Annie are very much still on the scene. At 84, Annie continues to sing on Tuesday nights at the Metropolitan Room in New York and just released a new album, To Lady with Love.  The Metropolitan Room recently held a tribute to her, in which singers and musicians took to the stage to sing her praises, and her longtime friend and fan Tony Bennett was in the house. Jon continues to write songs and to sing them, often in the company of his daughter Aria—in an updated version of the original group—Jon Hendricks and Co.; he just celebrated his 93rd birthday with his debut at the Cafe Carlyle.

 

LHR, as their fans call them, were major favorites of Hugh Hefner. They appeared no less than three times on Playboy’s Penthouse:

 

October 31, 1959 – with Larry Kert and the cast of Broadway’s West Side Story.

 

February 13, 1960 – with Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, Count Basie and the Basie rhythm section, as well as comedienne Phyllis Diller.

 

April 16, 1960 – a real all-star show, which also co-starred Tony Bennett as well as The Jonah Jones Quartet,  The Four Freshmen, Bob Newhart, harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler, folk singer Pete Seeger, and the team of Dick Haymes and Fran Jeffries.

 

We’ve been able to find five numbers by Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross on Playboy’s Penthouse, and, based on Annie’s dress, they all appear to be from the February 13, 1960 show, just a short while before the opening of the first Playboy Club in Chicago.

 

Here are all five (compiled from three different sources) in a YouTube playlist:

 

 

 

  1. “The Spirit Feel”—As you can see, the clip opens with a great shot of Annie, Hef, and Tony enjoying a drink before Hef introduces the trio.  This is a 1957 composition by vibes master Milt Jackson that was quickly taken up by Ray Charles—who called it “Hot Rod”— and then Count Basie.  In fact, the Genius and the Count both played it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 and 1959 respectively. It’s one of the harder-to-find LHR items; they recorded it on a 1958 United Artists single that, as far as we know, has still never been reissued.  Although most of the LHR numbers have lyrics by Jon, this is mostly a scat number, in which Dave and Jon go at it, while Jon does one of his well-known signatures—miming a saxophone as he scats.

 

  1. “Twisted”—Annie doesn’t get much to do in the first number, but she makes up for it here, taking over with a solo number.  This is her 1952 vocalese classic “Twisted,” based on a composition and solo by tenor great Wardell Gray.  This version is unique in that it features a piano solo by the one-and-only Count Basie, and that’s no small thing.  Looking at Annie here, the men can’t help but wish that she had been in Playboy – and we do mean the magazine, as well as the TV show and the clubs.  In fact, during the recent tribute evening at the Metro, singer Marion Cowings said, “If you wanted to hit on a girl, it was a surefire move to tell her that she looked like Annie Ross.”

 

  1. “The King” –Jon takes center stage, but only to introduce everyone, including Basie’s All-American rhythm section with guitarist Freddie Greene, bassist Eddie Jones, and drummer Sonny Payne, as well as Lambert, Ross and vocalist Joe Williams.  They sing Jon’s royal homage to Basie, “The King,” which has a complicated lineage: this is Jon’s vocal version of a 1946 instrumental by Basie, which is itself a variation on an earlier, more-famous “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” LHR performed “The King” with the Basie Orchestra on their 1958 album Sing Along with Basie, while “Woodside” was on their 1957 album Sing a Song of Basie. I told you it was complicated!  The trio becomes a quartet here, with Big Joe towering over the other three, and all four singers scat their fool heads off.

 

  1. “Doodlin”—This is an LHR classic, but also something of a rarity, having come out on the flip side of “Spirit Feel.”  It’s also the first of many times that Jon wrote lyrics to a Horace Silver composition.  It’s one of his most ambitious dramatic narratives as well—working as a companion to “Twisted” in that it’s a highly humorous characterization of what is clearly a neurosis.  When Dave starts his solo – singing in the voice of a Brooklyn-ese waiter (“Do youse doodle all day?”)—he pretty much steals the show, but not for long when Annie takes her solo, she quickly steals it away from him.  Both Sarah Vaughan and Mark Murphy recorded this lyric, among others.

 

  1. “Everyday”—It was called “Everyday” on the Sing A Song of Basie album jacket, but most Basie fans would know it as “Everyday I Have the Blues.”  The song had a long pre-Basie lineage, but it was Big Joe who brought it into the band when he joined in 1955. It’s the only song that LHR sang on both of their first two albums, Sing a Song of Basie and Sing Along with Basie.  They do it here like they did on the Sing Along album, in which the trio sings not so much with Big Joe but around him – it’s especially impressive to see how Jon in particular, answers Joe with incisive commentary that was played on saxophone in the 1955 Basie record. And watch Annie rather beguilingly chirp out the “bleats” that were originally played by the whole trumpet section in the final section.  It’s a moving finale to what amounts to a fantastic 23 minute segment.

 

Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross

Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross

 

LHR used it as the leadoff track on:

 

1.26 [26] Playboy’s Penthouse: Air-dates:

16Apr1960 WBKB-7, Chicago, Sat. 11:30pm-12:30am (Chicago Tribune)

21May1960 WOR-9, NYC, Sat. 11:30pm-12:30am (New York Times)

 

Guests:

Clancy Hayes (guitarist)

Lenny Bruce (comedian)

The Jonah Jones Quartet (jazz musicians)

The Four Freshmen (vocal band, quartet)

Bob Newhart (comedian)

Larry Adler (harmonica virtuoso)

Ann Henry (singer-dancer)

Dick Haymes and Fran Jeffries (husband-and-wife entertainers)

Pete Seeger (folk-singer)

Tony Bennett (singer)

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (vocal jazz trio)

 

You can read more stories in my books Playboy Swings and The Persian Room Presents